Toole County Forward hasn’t only grabbed the attention of local businesses and residents, but also that of U.S. Congressman Greg Gianforte, who is running for Governor. Gianforte made a stop in Shelby on Wednesday, Sept. 9, to visit with some of those behind Toole County Forward.
“I’m here to get an update on Toole County Forward,” smiled Gianforte. “What you’re doing to pull together as a community is what will get you through this.”
Those in attendance were Dwaine Iverson, local CPA and Toole County Forward treasurer; Holly Hovland, chairperson of the Forward committee; Lorette Carter, Jade Goroski and Mayor Gary McDermott, City of Shelby officials. All have played essential roles in the success of the program.
“The program is ran by the City,” said Iverson, adding, “$150,000 has been raised or donated so far. We’ve given out about 20 loans, approximately totally $120,000, to date, to restaurants, hair salons and entertainment.”
Iverson explained residents and former “Shelby-ites” have donated the funds and businesses are slowly coming back.
“The numbers are coming up,” Iverson told Gianforte. “A few of the restaurants we’ve looked at are actually doing better now than this time last year. We went through COVID a bit earlier than other places so people have been out and about sooner. We’ve really been promoting supporting local businesses. And people have been.”
Gianforte inquired about the Toole County Coins program. Carter, Community Development Director, explained how they work and how, so far, they seem to be a success. Hovland agreed, saying she and others she knows have been using and appreciating the “pay it forward” that comes with the coins.
“The coins are worth $20 and no change is given,” said Hovland. “It’s paid forward to the next customer. If you only spent $15 the remaining $5 is paid forward. I’ve used the coins and have been the recipient of the paid forward. It’s being used, a lot.”
Hovland’s husband is the master carpenter behind the coins, cutting them out, engraving them and hand-sanding each before they are distributed.
“He just finished up the last batch. He has already told me not to volunteer him for anything again,” she laughed.
Before heading out for his next small-town stop, Gianforte discussed a meat-cutting apprenticeship added this year to the Miles City Community College curriculum. He said anyone with Internet access could take the course.
“People are able to take the classes online and then apprentice at a local shop to get certified,” explained Gianforte. “It’s a good program and opportunity for many. We need certified people in the workforce.”
Housing in Toole County was also discussed. Gianforte pointed out that since the pandemic many with desk jobs have learned they can work from home.
“I think more would move and live here if there were housing available,” said Gianforte.
It was agreed that many who already work in Toole County, at the prison, at the border and on the railroad, reside in Cut Bank, Conrad, even Great Falls.
“There are programs out there to assist with increasing housing options,” said Gianforte.
The hour-long visit with Gianforte went by quickly, with plenty of informative discussion. Gianforte was impressed with the Toole County Forward program and how the community has pulled together in many aspects to survive and support each other throughout the past six months.
“What you’re doing to pull together as a community is what will get you through this,” he concluded. “We’re resilient.”